Maine Hockey Journal

MHG signs land option agreement

PORTLAND – Are the Portland Pirates about ready to set sail for Saco?

It’s a real possibility after Maine Hockey Group entered into an agreement on Monday with Saco City Council for an option to purchase a 12.85 acre plot owned by the city on Lund Road.

According to the Journal Tribune, the council voted by a 6-1 margin – Councilor Eric Cote was the lone no vote – to move forward with MHG with the hope they’ll exercise the option to purchase the land for a reported $105,000 where they’ll build new arena to house the American Hockey League franchise.

The land, located near exit 36 off I-95, is adjacent the OA Sports Center, which is owned by MHG and houses the Pirates’ primary practice facility (MHG Ice Centre), Michael Phelps Swim Center, OA Performance Center and Octagon Action Sports.

It’s not the first time that talk of a new arena in Saco has come up. When Ron Cain, owner of MHG, purchased a large minority stake in the Pirates back in 2010 there was talk of a new arena in Saco and again in 2011 as a counter plan should Cumberland County voters fail to approve a $33 million dollar bond to renovated the Cumberland County Civic Center, which has been home of the Pirates since 1993.

Voters approved the bond in Nov. 2011, and the Pirates opted to stay at the Civic Center on a one-year lease extension, which expired in April 2013, while renovations began.

Negotiations between the Pirates, who were scheduled to play 13 games at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, and Civic Center soured over the summer, and the Pirates moved their entire 2013-’14 to the Colisee.

Both sides indicated they had reached a deal in principal on a new five-year lease agreement back in April to play at the arena which is scheduled to be re-opened to the public at some point in mid-January. However, the deal hit a snag over the summer when the state’s liquor enforcement agency indicated that the lease violated the state’s liquor law as only the licensee could receive revenues generated from the sale of the alcohol.

The board offered 65 percent of food and beverage revenues to make up the loss of alcohol income in a final lease offer to the Pirates, which was rejected. The team’s ownership proceeded with legal action, filing a lawsuit in Cumberland County Superior Court in order to enforce the terms of the original deal reached in April.

The trustees contend that the agreement was nothing more than bullet points for future negotiations, while the Pirates believe it’s a binding, enforceable lease agreement. Both sides could not reach common ground in a court-mandated settlement conference, and the Pirates announced they would continue to move forward with the lawsuit despite dropping its motion for a temporary injunction that would have prevented the civic center from booking events on dates originally planned for Pirates’ games.

The Civic Center has begun seeking out new tenants and asked the court to dismiss the cases without merit.

The Pirates have turned their focus to finding a new home for the 2014-’15 season and beyond, which includes remaining in Lewiston, building a new facility in Saco or reaching an agreement with the civic center’s board.

The Journal Tribune cited cost to build the new arena with at least 4,000 seats to be an estimated $20-$30 million according to Saco Economic Development Director Peter Morelli, and $40-$50 million from Dave Porter, who represents Cain in his ventures with the city. The time frame to complete the building would be 18 months from the start of construction and likely mean the Pirates would have to play a second season in Lewiston.